They said that female students pursuing their MPhil or PhD face the most harassment, with several guides asking for sexual favours.

Educationists call for staff background checks after TN college sex for cash scandal
news Crime Tuesday, April 17, 2018 - 17:56

Over the last two days, a controversial audio clip of a woman professor luring female students into sex work has sent shockwaves across the state. But even as the public grapples with how deep the rot in the system runs, educationalists tell TNM that this viral audio has only exposed one of several such incidents in the state's educational institutes. 

In the audio clip, which has being doing the rounds on social media, professor Nirmala Devi of the Devanga Arts college is heard telling students, whose identities have not been made public, that an 'opportunity' has come their way. And that they are expected to do certain things 'secretly' for a very senior official of the Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU) to which the college is affiliated. She was initially suspended after four female students, who were on the receiving end of the 'offer', complained to higher authorities.

Protests broke out following the leak of the audio and the police arrested her on Monday evening. The Aruppukkottai town police has registered a case under sections 370 (buying or disposing of any persons as slaves) and 511 (attempting to commit offence punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment) of the Indian Penal Code. She has also been booked under Section 65 (tampering with computer source documents) of the Information Technology Act. The case was later transferred to the CB-CID on Tuesday.

"Such cases are not exclusive to just the Madurai Kamaraj University; it has now become common in all educational institutions. It is usually woman scholars who are pursuing their PhDs or Post Doctorates who face maximum harassment," says E Balagurusamy, former vice-chancellor, Anna University. "In this particular case, it is not just the professor who has been arrested who should be questioned. The role of other authorities in the college and even the Governor, who has been mentioned, need to be enquired into."

He added that he welcomed the CB-CID's involvement in the case.

Three other simultaneous inquiries have been initiated with regard to the case. The first by the college, the second by Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU) Vice-Chancellor PP Chelladurai and the third by Governor Banwarilal Purohit were ordered. DMK Working President MK Stalin and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss both demanded a CBI probe to bring out the truth as high-level persons are suspected to be involved in the scandal.

Educationists, however, are sceptical that investigation will yield results.

"These committees will be of no use. Professors themselves are part of this ring," says Balagurusamy. "Such practices have become common after 2005, as officials at the higher levels, including Vice-Chancellors, were corrupt and indulged in such acts.”

The former VC says that a college in Palani had witnessed a similar case a few years back, but the matter was hushed up and no action has been taken against those involved. "In fact, the lady professor involved in the case even got promoted to the post of Vice-Chancellor," he claims.

In November last year, TNM reported about the Sathya Institute Of Paramedical Sciences in Villupuram which offered free education to female students. But what it really turned out to be was a trap to sexually harass women from impoverished backgrounds.

Dr U Srikumar, principal of Sri Paranjyothi Yoga College, tells TNM that guides at the MPhil or PhD levels usually demand sexual favours and that they have agents who work with them.

"These agents could be a colleague or a former student who was forced to do what they wanted," he says. "In this case too, this Nirmala Devi is some form of agent. They target students who are academically weak and lack maturity, so that they can be coerced easily. There is no immediate cure for this, but if it goes unpunished, it will spread like a communicable disease.”

Markandeyan, former VC of Gandhigram University, insists that background checks on professors are a must, bringing into question if those who indulge in such practices could be repeat offenders.

"A thorough check is required to prevent such incidents. This casts a shadow on higher education in Tamil Nadu. The college should not have waited so long to give a police complaint either," he says.

The female students had informed the institution on March 19. But the complaint was filed only on April 16. "It should have been done immediately to build confidence,” he adds.